Breaking The Gender Binary: The Navajo Had Four Genders


Breaking The Gender Binary: The Navajo Had Four Genders

“In another time, he would have been honored. Instead he was murdered,” begins a PBS documentary called Two Sprits. The film looks at the Navajo belief of nadleehi, the interrelationship between masculine and feminine within each individual person, and mourns the death of Fred Martinez, a male-bodied person with a female nature to him.

Martinez became the youngest victim of a hate crime ever when he was murdered at the age of 16 in 2001. Two Spirits explores his life, a nadleehi, a boy who was also a girl. It examines the spiritual nature of nature.

“In Navajo teaching, in the old traditional world, there were four basic genders,” explains Wesley Thomas, Navajo scholar from Tsaile, Arizona, in the Two Spirits documentary.

Navajo_Land_0272_sRGB“Women are the first gender, because Navajo is a matrilineal society. Men are the second gender; and the third gender is the nádleehí, who is born as a male person but functions in the role of a girl in early childhood and in the role of a woman in adulthood.

And it’s just the opposite for the fourth gender, where they were born biologically female but functioned in the role of a boy in early childhood and matured into a man, and conducts their life in that gender identity.”

In today’s society, people are labeled as male and female and that’s pretty much it. Many feel that two spirits, transgender, as well as gay and bisexual people are freaks of nature, but they are simply an expression of nature that many have opted simply to judge out of hate.

Navajo_group_Poley“In Western culture, when they say ‘a girl,’ there’s an automatic assumption that that girl is female. Or when they see a boy, they never pause to think that boy may be female,” Thomas says.

“The masculine and feminine are oftentimes reflected so completely in the body of one person,” says Two-Spirit organizer Richard LaFortune. “It’s as if they have two spirits.”



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